Friday, April 17, 2020

so, what am I up to right now? a summary

Almost every day, my partner and I go for a long walk in Sligo Creek Park, which is three blocks from our new house. It's a nice routine during a time when we can't do most normal things. I especially enjoy walking on Sligo Creek Parkway itself, which is one of several streets Montgomery County has closed to car traffic during the Covid-19 pandemic to give people space to exercise.

bikes and family in the sand
Enjoying Sligo Creek Park while the parkway is closed to traffic. All photos by the author.
Of course, while we're supposed to be keeping our distance from people, we run into a lot of friends and neighbors. Last week, a longtime reader asked me, "Why haven't you been writing? I haven't seen anything from you in a while." So, I figured it was worth sharing a few things I've been up to:

walking the dog on empty georgia avenue
Walking the dog on an empty Georgia Avenue after Maryland's stay-at-home order took effect.
I'm also keeping a close eye on several efforts that will have a big impact on Montgomery County, and East County, in the coming months. One is Montgomery County Public Schools' ongoing school boundary analysis, which is on hold for now. Another is the Planning Department's new Silver Spring Downtown Plan, which will look at how downtown Silver Spring should grow or change in the next few decades, and will begin work this summer.

The third is Thrive Montgomery 2050, which is an update of the county's General Plan, a broad vision for how all of Montgomery County should look in the future. Right now, county planners are drafting goals for the plan. I'm part of a grassroots group called Montgomery for All, which wants the plan to focus on social equity, affordable housing, and green transportation. After reading the Thrive draft goals, I sent in my thoughts to the Planning Board, which are below. You can also write the Planning Board through their website.

Dear Chair Anderson and members of the Montgomery County Planning Board,

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments today! My name is Dan Reed, I grew up in Montgomery County, and my partner and I live in Silver Spring. I’m also a part of Montgomery for All, a grassroots organization that’s advocating for a General Plan that paves the way for a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable future.

I’m writing in support of the draft vision and goals for the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan, with some suggestions. When I first read the original On Wedges and Corridors plan, I was inspired by how ambitious this original vision was, and the many ways it both predicted and shaped Montgomery County’s evolution over the past 50 years. The draft vision and goals will help us do it again, with some adjustments:

  • We need transportation that isn’t just “multimodal,” but commit to creating streets where walking, biking, and public transit - and the comfort and safety of people using those travel modes - have priority. If we can say that every resident lives within a 15-minute walk of a park, why not apply that standard to transit service, or access to daily needs?
  • We need to address the deep systemic inequity that exists in Montgomery County. Equal treatment doesn’t mean equal outcomes, particularly for historically oppressed communities. We need to focus on measuring outcomes - and addressing the policies that create inequity. One big example is single-family zoning, which was created to keep neighborhoods white and affluent, while excluding everyone who isn’t either of those things.
  • We need to plan for diverse communities and diverse activities. Montgomery County used to be a bedroom community, but today it’s a place where people come to start businesses, to organize, to create, to perform, and to celebrate. We need public and private spaces that support the wide range of activities that make life great, and a planning process that encourages people to contribute to this place, instead of putting up barriers.
  • We need to solve our historic housing shortage. Years of underbuilding pushes up home prices, causes displacement, creates traffic jams, and hurts our economy. The future of our county depends on having more homes, more diverse kinds of homes for our diverse society, and more homes that working people can afford to buy or rent.
  • We need an inclusive decision-making process. Today, it can be challenging to participate in conversations around planning, in part because meetings are at places and times where many people can’t attend in person. This means the county may only hear from people with lots of time or money - which often means affluent, older, white homeowners.

I also want to address the county executive’s recent comments that the Planning Board not do “controversial” things during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s likely that a lot of the ideas in Thrive 2050 will be controversial, not to mention some of the things I’ve suggested. I hope the Planning Board will move forward with this plan, while seizing every opportunity to engage the public about them. This is a great time to try new and unorthodox modes of communication, and it’s likely to engage people who haven’t participated in traditional methods. It would be a shame if we put aside these ambitious plans, or talking about them, because a small group of people viewed them as threatening.

I love this county, and I chose to move back here as an adult despite the high cost of living because it’s a good place to live and because my family and friends are here. I’m planning a future here, and I hope this county will plan for a future that includes me and people like me. I’m confident these suggestions will help us do that.

As always, you can find the latest local news on the Just Up The Pike Facebook page, and keep up with whatever I'm doing on Twitter. So long as we're all stuck in the house, I'm excited to get some new posts on here soon.

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